With brisk northeast wind blowing, we had left the Rio de La Plata on East Course. Downright 500 nautical miles had been sailed in 36 hours when the radio operator reported to the officer on watch, MAYDAY, meaning “distress, come help me” has been received from the Argentine research vessel El Gran Salvador. That was yesterday morning. The captain was called immediately and the needs of Argentinians were explained: although the ship itself is not in danger, the 123 penguins that we have on board are; there is food for just two days for them on board. Because of difficulties with the engine, we can only steam at four knots, to the first port and the Penguin station it would take at least five days. The request was for someone to bring the Penguins to a large tabular iceberg, floating around 200 nautical miles away in SSO direction. There someone would pick up the animals in the next 2-3 weeks.
The ship’s command was willing to help, but saw no possibility to get the penguins on board with the help of our cargo loading gear. You could not tie a leash around the belly of the penguins and take them on board hanging on a cargo hook. The request had almost been rejected, but they wanted to clarify a) where the transfer could take place in calm seas, and b) whether the penguins could go upstairs with steps of 10 cm height.
If both requests were positive, we would only need to deploy our gangway, and the visitors could come aboard. After the El Gran Salvador signaled that both would be no problem our course was redrawn and we sailed to the meeting point about 55 nautical miles away. Three hours later, the gangway was deployed, the wind grew weaker and at low speed in almost calm seas we arrived late afternoon at the location of the research vessel.
This was at best just a small fishing trawler, but there were at least two dozen researchers and 10 dozen penguins on deck with heads erect. By removing another sail, we reduced our speed to just two knots so that the steamer could come alongside and the transfer could begin.
One after another, the animals were gently placed on our gangway and with coaxing and a gentle nudge, they waddled around five meters up, until they stood on our deck. They were distributed equally 40 in front, center and aft respectively. Then we dragged the fish stocks on deck and at once onto the forecastle, because they had already smelled something. The El Gran Salvador said goodbye and gave us a hint where we should set out the penguins. Then they steamed away on a western course.
We also changed to the new course and set all sails. Never has our work been observed with such great interest by our guests. They did not only watch but did something helpful in the meantime. If we pulled a rope from the top down, their heads were moving up and down, when a sheet was pulled from left to right, their heads moved from left to right. When we turned a crank clockwise; they turned the head around toward the right side. Hard to guess what happened when it was turned around to the left. They stood together in groups of 5 to 10 animals. They were often closer to the events than we were, but “always in the middle.” It was initially quite cute, but it was also dangerous, because those at least one meter tall guests violated fundamentally all health and safety regulations! The ship’s command was convinced that after a long night it could not go on like this. We all understood. All sails were recovered and we motored the remaining hours to the tabular iceberg.
Just before noon, it became severely cold, and a few hours later,
we spotted a giant iceberg in grey weather. Everyone wanted to see its dimensions, and even the chef and his cocks-mate climbed the foremast up to 50 meters height to admire a huge plate, 10 meters above sea level.
However, because of the bitter cold we wanted to get away from here as quickly as possible. Only our penguins grunted happily. We headed for a fracture point from where our guests could easily climb the plateau. Then they were taken in the arms of the two starboard watch sailors and released head first down into the sea. You got warm handling the second penguin, and started sweating with the third one. In less than half an hour, the departure was complete. Shortly after that, we saw the entire squad on the iceberg ashore with their fins (wings) waving just like Hamburg’s people on the arrival of ships on the Elbe – super cool Hanseatic tradition. One of the port watch sailors had by now fished several large chunks of ice from the sea and placed them on the poop deck. A small fresh water supply which was sufficient for the next few days. Another 12 hours under engine were required to come back to enjoy wind and warmer temperatures.
This is it: I am sitting on deck and have written my notes about Buenos Aires and the Penguins in my scratch pad.